A South Carolina bill barring local restrictions on plastic bags was narrowly rejected Tuesday as coastal Republicans argued the state shouldn't dictate what municipalities can or can't do to protect sea life and the local economy.
The House voted 50-49 to continue the bill, meaning the chamber can't consider it again until 2018. A subsequent 51-51 vote blocked a do-over attempt, sealing its fate for the year. The debate pitted Republicans against each other in the GOP-controlled chamber.
The bill would have barred local governments from restricting plastic bags or other single-use containers, such as foam take-home boxes or cups.
So far, only Isle of Palms and Folly Beach have restricted the bags. The bill would have grandfathered them in, but legislators from other coastal districts argued their constituents should be able to have that debate too.
The bill's opponents contend the bags litter the state's waterways, and the plastic bits consumed by sea turtles and fish harm the entire food chain.
Rep. Shannon Erickson, R-Beaufort, showed a photo of an oyster that had filtered bits of plastic. The health of oyster beds is critical for the local economy, she said.
"The area I live in would be out of luck. To ban bans is liberty taking," she said. "Pollutants are a problem. Do we want local bans everywhere? No, but we should protect the rights of local governments."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Eric Bedingfield, R-Belton, argued litter is a personal responsibility problem.
"It is not the bag's fault. It's a people problem," he said.
He also argued it's a pro-business bill that lets business owners decide for themselves how to bag customers' groceries or take-home meals. But Rep. Weston Newton, R-Newton, countered that doesn't take into account the fishing and tourism industries.
"Who's pro-business is this?" he asked. "This is a solution in search of a problem."
An approved amendment allowed municipalities to still ban the bags on public beaches and coastal wetlands.
But Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, asked whether bags flying from car windows and boat docks would know when to turn around.
"So turtles and fish eating these things need personal responsibility too?" he asked. "Why is this a good bill to anyone but bag manufacturers?"
Democrats called it ironic that Republicans who routinely complain about federal overreach wanted to impose bans on South Carolina municipalities.